Kristen’s job requires that she travel frequently. She has several cats of her own, plus some fosters.
Susan is essentially self-employed. But she still has to travel from time to time, and that means she, too, has to come up with a relatively stress-free arrangement for her cats.
We can all manage the odd weekend or week away. Our cats are less than thrilled about those and may take it out on us, our suitcases or both. But how do you keep your felines happy when you have to travel regularly on business?
The Problems With Boarding
There are many excellent cat-boarding facilities out there.
But let’s face it: Your cats are not going to be head-over-paws about being uprooted from their home every time you have to fly out for a conference or business meeting. They’ll end up spending a large amount of time in a cage or a small “condo.”
Cats, as a rule, don’t do well in cages — which is why so many come across as being neurotic and/or unfriendly in shelters. The condo option is better, but it’s still a relatively confined space.
Cat therapist Carole Wilbourn advises strongly against boarding. Cats, as she points out, “are very vulnerable to sickness when they’re kept near other cats. Their vulnerability increases when they’re separated from their people and home. Any added emotional stress lowers their resistance and makes them an excellent target for stray virus or bacteria.”
The other issue is how much personal attention your cats will get. This will, of course, vary depending on the facility. For instance, some veterinary clinics have kennel staff, and some don’t.
If you do end up boarding, make sure your cat has their own dishes, food and litter with them. A couple of your shirts or some towels from home aren’t a bad idea either, says animal behavior consultant Pamela Johnson-Bennett.
Enter the Cat Sitter
Still, if you have to travel for work, you’re probably best off using a cat sitter. Cats like their routines, and they really like being on their home turf. “There’s no way to avoid disruption when we go away,” Kristen reflects. “Leaving them in their own home is one way to minimize their stress.”
Find a sitter you can trust. Basically, you want someone who will treat your cat like their own and who will make sure that the feline status quo stays in balance.
And then you need to build a good working relationship with that person and use them as much as possible to sit for your cat. This is important — mainly because sometimes it can take months for a skittish cat to get comfortable with the sitter.
Hiding Places, Routines and Toys
There are a number of things that both you and your sitter can do to make these absences easier:
- Try to have the sitter stick to the day-to-day routine as much as possible.
- Ask the sitter to rotate the cat toys to keep things interesting.
- Show your sitter all your cats’ hiding places — the ones you know about, at any rate.
- Tell the sitter not to change their food while you’re away. And that goes for you, too: Don’t tweak your cats’ food before leaving. In both scenarios, the cats will start connecting your leaving with getting extra-special food.
- “Make sure your sitter has all the information they need to care for your cat, beyond just when and how much to feed them,” insists writer Ingrid King.
These cat sitters lovingly document the weeklong antics of their charges:
Part of the Family
“My sitter is like an extended part of my cats’ family,” says Kristen. “I see my shy cats come running to greet her: They are the same cats who avoid meeting other guests who come to my home.” Once, she laughs, “it felt like Blaze had been cheating on me when I discovered he hops on the sitter’s shoulder, too.”
If Kristen’s sitter has become an unofficial member of the family, then Susan’s — her son — is an official one. He already helps with the cats, “so when I’m gone, the only thing that changes is that they don’t see me those days.” Once he’s out on his own, however, she’ll be looking for someone to cat sit when she’s away.
Knowing that the right person is looking after your cats is, as they used to say in these parts, a peace-of-mind guarantee. Who wouldn’t want that?